There’s something of the pugilist to Jones. Ideas and arguments come thick and fast. If John “Ways of Seeing” Berger knocks you out flat, and if Kenneth “Civilisation” Clark dances and weaves around the ring, Jones delivers smart, sharp hooks to the jaw. Boff! Boff! Boff! I may not agree with Jones on every blow, but I rather enjoyed the pummelling... The author’s lens is necessarily focused. Invention and inspiration are less important to this story than the independent, inquiring eye and mind. At times I hankered for a bit of the old “divine, unknowable genius” magic. Nevertheless, Sensations is a riveting story of art and science: thoughtful, provocative and persuasive.
There’s a really terrific book here, erudite, impassioned, fascinating: it should have been “The Story of British Art from Hogarth to Turner”. Et finis. For when Turner dies in 1851, the light goes out of British art, and to a large extent out of this book. Though Turner was a lusty Georgian, by the time of his death the third great repression had its stranglehold on British society and thought: Victorian prudery... Now Sensations becomes a different book: episodic and fractured (as perhaps suits the age), jumping across to Europe and back, co-opting the American-born Sargent and Whistler into the narrative (which also suits the age), but getting clogged up by asides on suffragettes, Irish Home Rule, the causes of the first world war and more.